THE SQUARE — NYFF 55
Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.
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Just because a film won the Palme d’Or in Cannes is no reason to assume it is any good. Ruben Östlund’s ham-fisted, but also cheesy, attempt at self-aware social satire is in keeping with his overpraised [debut] parlor-trick drama “Force Majeure.”
“The square” of the film’s title represents an art instillation outside the X-Royal Museum, a prominent nouveau arts center run by Christian (Claes Bang), a Scandinavian everyman imperiled by the people around him.
Is society breaking down? Perhaps. The lighted square represents a safe communal place where people help each other.
Christian’s troubles begin when he’s robbed while walking to work by a creative group of seemingly unrelated people. As Christian walks across a plaza a woman comes running towards him, shouting about being killed by a man chasing her. Another bystander protects the woman, and Christian joins in to defend her from the approaching brute.
Only later does Christian realize that his watch, wallet, cell phone, and cuff links have been stolen. The entire episode was an act of carefully orchestrated thievery not unlike that which Christian’s overblown museum commits with works of art such as a room with many piles of rocks.
Christian’s entitled status doesn’t prevent him from doing some stupid things. At the advice of his minority employee Michael (Christopher Læssø), Christian prints out a bunch of incendiary flyers that he personally puts in the doors of a low-income high-rise where his phone is tracked.
After being interviewed by Anne, a loose-screw American TV journalist played by the now ubiquitous scientologist actress Elisabeth Moss, Christian makes the mistake of bedding her. In the film’s most cringe-inducing scene, Anne engages Christian in a tug-of-war for the freshly used condom that could provide her with innumerable legal options, aside from the obvious motivation of impregnating herself with his semen.
You have to hand it to Östlund for typecasting Moss to play such a bad-animal character; Christian is no judge of character. He’s also not very good at tug-of-war.
“The Square” fails as a social satire because Östlund isn’t capable of completing any of his slow-moving trains of thought. He creates provocative situations that he isn’t prepared to pay off on. Östlund got away with pulling the wool over many critics’ eyes with “Force Majeure” because the narrative rested on one blink-and-you-miss-it element.
At two hours and 22 minutes, “The Square” puts its many weaknesses on flagrant display. Here is a lazy satire unworthy of a sneeze from such masters of the form as Lars von Trier. Perhaps one day Ruben Östlund will make a competent film; don’t hold your breath.
Rated R. 142 mins.